By SAM OMATSEYE
Over the years, some have wondered at the semiotics of his name, especially in the course of ten years when he taught at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) in Port Harcourt. Mamman Musa is not supposed to evangelise Christ, administer sacraments or applaud the virtues of the Holy Bible.
It did not matter that his first name is Gerald. He is Hausa and close to 99 percent of them are Muslims. How come he turned out a Christian? Not only that, a priest. Not only that, a cleric with an elite profile, who thrived in the Lord’s vineyard for decades inside Hausaland, survived scorns, shunned alienation, parried persecution even. On December 12, he will make history as the first Hausa man to become a bishop of the Catholic Church not in Lagos or Abia, where he once taught, but in Katsina in Hausaland. The investiture will not just be about renaming a place or person, but a revolution of identity. Like the novel, A New Name, by Jon Fosse who just won the Nobel Prize. Just as Fosse with his writings is Catholic, so is Bishop Musa.
He is 52, which is young in episcopal years. So, he could be a cardinal with a chance not only to select the pontiff but to become one. Monsignor Musa – that is how is addressed now. He is not a bishop yet, but a bishop-elect until the solemnity of his elevation.
The Katsina Diocese is excised from the Sokoto Diocese under the beloved Bishop Matthew Kukah, who broke the news to me casually during a phone dialogue.
“Do you see yourself as a Hausa Bishop?” I asked with some mischief.
“I see myself as a Catholic bishop who has a Hausa background,” he replies, and peps it with a sardonic line. “If I call myself an Igbo priest, or Yoruba priest or Hausa priest, they may mistake me for a traditional Hausa priest,” he adds.
Yet he admits the historic hue of his new posting. “It comes with privilege and corresponding responsibility,” he says with sobriety.
How did he become a priest, or, more poignantly, a Christian? No one proselitised him into the faith. That lot fell on his grandparents when missionaries known as the Society of Missionaries of Africa (SMA) landed northern Nigeria in 1934 in Gobirawa in Argungu district of today’s Kebbi State. Argungu, famous for its hefty fishes and festival, was a spiritual stream for fishers of men. His grandfather was a catch, and his parents inherited the dragnet.
They were minorities in faith. His father, a Hausa man, was named Emmanuel Musa and fell under the arms of the white missionaries after his parents died and he dropped out of school. “The missionaries brought him back to school and he became a Catholic and a teacher.”
Emmanuel Musa became not only literate, he turned torchbearer. He translated the Bible from English to Hausa as well as books of Christian doctrines like the Africa Our Way series by Michael McGrath and Nicole Gregoire. His father who worked in government ministry suffered alienation for his belief. It was a hostile atmosphere for a Christian, said the Bishop. Some routine privileges were out of reach. “No one would give you his daughter to marry,” he noted. Emmanuel was denied promotion in the government ministry if he did not become Muslim. He rebuffed the blackmails. His mother, Christiana Asabe, a nurse, hailed from Shendam in today’s Plateau State, and she descends from a family of converts as well.
The family moved over to Malumfashi in today’s Katsina state. It was there Gerald Mamman Musa grew. He was surrounded with seminarians, was immersed in church activity and fell in love with it. He even was an altar server and presided at mass. In primary two, Rev. Father Lawrence Agu impressed him with the beauty of Catholic mystique in his devotion and zest.
But he attended a public primary school – Tunau Primary School – with over 90 percent Muslims. However, he did not suffer any alienation then. He still has robust friendship with his classmates today, some of them in prominent positions in the state. They bond on a WhatsApp platform. He says that in Malumfashi, Christians enjoyed an atmosphere of religious toleration even if some Muslim clerics stoked fanatic odium for the other faith.
He attended St. Joseph Minor Seminary in Zaria, St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Makurdi and St Augustine major Seminary in Jos. He earned his master’s degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University and a doctorate from the School of Journalism and Communication of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. He is also a professor as director of the Centre for Studies of African Culture and Communications at the CIWA, Port Harcourt.
Has anyone called him maguzawa? It’s a slur and it means a runaway, a term of contempt for Christians in the north. “Yes,” he says. “I trace the origin to those who care to listen. I tell them Muslims were once not Muslims.” The north did not embrace Islam until the 1804 Jihad, and even then, it was a faith of the official majority only. After a while, many who did not embrace Islam had to flee places like Kano and Katsina further south like today’s Abuja and Nasarawa State where their faiths did not stir resentment. Bishop Musa says, bamaguje is the term for men and bamaguza for female. “I often say, everybody is a bamaguje.”
But he says he has not suffered much persecution. He said he has suffered alienation but “not always persecution.” As a person who attended Catholic institutions and rose amidst seminarians and had shunned secular work, his calling might have cocooned him in a bubble. He admits that pressure forces some Christians to change their names and others to renounce their faith. I recall as a teacher at the Aminu Kano College in Kano, I was stunned that most of the students bore northern names but were from the south and Christian.
Was that why he followed the clerical path? He admits it could make a person make “such unconscious decision.” But he believes it is not the case with him, otherwise he would not thrive or find joy in his calling. His favorite books are The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth for nonfiction. For fiction, he hauls Victor Hugo’s Le Miserable. They all emphasis the suffering of the masses. He said that is where his soul is. It translates to music as well. He thrills to the revolutionary pathos of Bob Marley’s Redemption Songs, War and Exodus.
Is he keen on liberation theology? Yes indeed, quoting its founder Gustavo Guitierrez, the Peruvian priest and philosopher. Musa says the poor must be central to his work, invoking the 19th century Swiss theologian who said, “take your Bible and take your newspaper and read both. But interpret the newspaper from the Bible.” I added that today, he would interface the Bible and social media. Musa defers his views on the feudal north. That is not for now, he restrains himself.
On the last election, he condemned the abuse of religion, although he said faith was deployed as a cloak over ethnicism. “The religious component was just a façade,” he noted, although I disagree. It was as potent. He said, though, that “some religious leaders were bought over.” He insisted that religious leaders should never take sides. On the Pentecostals, he said there was good and bad sides to any brand of faith. The Pentecostals, he lamented, have privileged prosperity over holiness, personality cult over Christ. “Some have pushed it beyond limit.”
He describes Bishop Kukah as a role model, committed to his faith and his episcopal vocation. “We have not seen a cleric of that influence in this society,” he extols, adding he is shorn of ethnic or religious prejudices. On Mbaka, he is less charitable. He said a cleric should “stand at the intersection without taking sides. He has not done that. Sometimes the temptation is to take sides.” He quotes Aristotle that the “virtue is in the middle.” He his not the only Hausa cleric. They have a platform of about 36 priests of varying ranks.
Will he be vocal? Yes, but he will be guided by wisdom that restrains. “You have to know when to speak and when to be silent,” tilting “the strength of silence against the dictatorship of noise.” (The Nation)